Skip to main content

Orders of Protection

What is an Order of Protection?

An order of protection is a legal document which is signed by a judge and tells someone who is hurting or scaring you to stop or he or she will face serious legal consequences. It offers legal protection for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking.

  1. Domestic abuse victims/perpetrators as defined for the purposes of obtaining an order of protection in the State of Tennessee include the following:
  • Adults or minors who are current or former spouses;
  • Adults or minors who live together or have lived together;
  • Adults or minors who are dating or who have dated or who have had a sexual relationship;
  • Adults or minors related by blood or adoption;
  • Adults or minors who are related or were formerly related by marriage; and
  • Adult or minor children of a person in a relationship that is described above.

If you as the victim are harmed by any of the aforementioned persons in any of the following ways, you are eligible to file for an order of protection:

  • Physical injury on an adult or minor by other than accidental means;
  • Placing an adult or minor in fear of physical harm;
  • Physical restraint;
  • Malicious damage to the personal property of the abused party; and
  • Physical injury on any animal owned, possessed, leased, kept, or held by an adult or minor or placing an adult or minor in fear of physical harm to any animal owned, possessed leased, kept or held by the adult or minor.
  1. Sexual Assault for the purposes of obtaining an order of protection involves any forced or coerced penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth, by any part of another person's body or by an object, or unwanted contact with the genital area, inner thighs, buttocks, or the breasts of a female (clothed or unclothed), or forcing a person to touch another's intimate parts.

Sexual Assaults can include child sexual abuse, rape, attempted rape, incest, exhibitionism, voyeurism, obscene phone calls, fondling, and sexual harassment.

In addition, rape occurs when anyone forces you to have sex without your consent, has sex with you if you are 13 years of age to 18 years of age and they are four or more years older than you, or has sex with you when you are less than 13 years of age.

  1. Stalking for the purposes of obtaining an order of protection involves repeated or cumulative behaviors that serve no purpose other than to annoy, threaten, or cause fear for another individual.

Harassment is a form of stalking that involves conduct that has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individuals performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment

Stalking behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Following
  • Repeated, unwanted
    • phone calls,
    • emails,
    • text messages,
    • instant messages
    • "Facebook" or "Myspace" messages
  • Vandalism of personal property
  • Becoming "friends" with all of your friends
  • Leaving unwanted gifts and objects for you at your home, on your car, at work, etc.
  • Showing up everywhere you go
  • Monitoring your activities

How can an order of protection help you?


An order of protection may do the following:

  • Order the perpetrator not to call you, contact or otherwise communicate with you, directly or indirectly;
  • Order the perpetrator not to stalk you;
  • Award you custody of your children;
  • Require the perpetrator to pay spousal and/or child support;
  • Award you sole possession of your residence (in other words, force the perpetrator to move out and let you stay in the home) or force the perpetrator to provide alternative housing for you;
  • Require the perpetrator to pay for the cost of the court proceedings;
  • Require the perpetrator to attend counseling programs that address violent behavior or substance abuse problems;
  • Forbid the perpetrator from possessing, owning or buying firearms;
  • Award the custody, care and control of your animal;
  • Order the perpetrator to do anything else you ask for providing the judge agrees to the conditions.

Whether or not a judge grants all or any of the measures above depends on the facts of your case.

Can I get an order of protection?

Orders of protection in the state of Tennessee are designed to protect victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking.

If anyone has stalked you or sexually assaulted you, you can ask the court for an order of protection.

If someone has abused you, though, you need to have a special relationship with them to get an order of protection. You can only seek a protection order because of domestic abuse if the abuser is one of the following:

  • Your husband or ex-husband;
  • Your wife or ex-wife;
  • Someone you live with or used to live with;
  • Anyone you are dating or used to date;
  • Anyone you are having a sexual relationship with or used to have a sexual relationship with;
  • A same-sex partner you have lived with, dated, or had a sexual relationship with;
  • Anyone you are related to by blood or adoption; or
  • Anyone you are related to by marriage or used to be related to by marriage.

Types of orders of protection

In Tennessee there are two types of protection orders for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking.

Temporary Protection Orders (TPOs)

Temporary Protection Orders are also known as "ex parte" orders. Temporary Protection Orders are short-term orders that are designed to protect you until you are issued an Extended Protection Order. TPOs may be granted without the perpetrator's knowledge, although the authorities will notify him or her if you are granted a TPO. You can ask for a TPO at the same time as you ask for an Extended Protection Order (EPO). A TPO last 15 days, or until the full hearing for you EPO.

Extended Protection Orders (EPOs)

Extended Protection Orders are only issued after a full court hearing. They protect you for a longer period of time and can offer you a wider variety of protection measures than a TPO. EPOs last up to one year. Before your order expires, you can ask for a one-year extension.

How much does it cost? Do I need a lawyer?

There are no fees for filing for an order of protection. However, after the hearing, the judge will usually assign any court costs to one of the parties. This is typically the respondent (the perpetrator). If you drop your petition or if it is not granted, the judge may assign costs to you.

You do not need a lawyer to file for an order of protection. However, you may wish to have a lawyer, especially if the perpetrator has a lawyer. If you can, contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected.

Steps for getting an order of protection

Step 1: Get the necessary forms

To start your case, you will need to fill out the necessary forms for a protection order. If the crime occurred in Davidson County, you can obtain the forms from Project Safe at Vanderbilt University (615) 322-7233 or from Night Court located in the Davidson Criminal Justice Center located at 448 2nd Avenue North Nashville, TN, (615) 862-8123.

Step 2: Carefully fill out the forms

On the Order of Protection paperwork or petition, you will be the "petitioner" and the perpetrator will be the "respondent". On the petition, in the box provided for explaining why you want the order of protection, write briefly about the most recent incident of violence, using specific language (slapping, hitting, grabbing, threatening, etc.) that fits your situation. Include details and dates, if possible. Clerks, magistrates and the Vanderbilt Police Department's Victim Services Coordinator can show you which blanks to fill in, but they cannot help you decide what to write.

If you need immediate protection, tell the magistrate that you want to file for a temporary (ex-parte) protection order. A judge can grant you a temporary protection order if you or your child or children are in immediate danger. (The perpetrator does not have to be with you or be told that you are asking the magistrate for a temporary protection order.)

Do not sign the petition without first checking with the magistrate. You may need to sign the petition in front of a notary public or court official.

If you are staying at a shelter, give a Post Office Box, not the street address. If you do not have a safe address, do not fill it out-ask the magistrate first how you can keep your address confidential.

Step 3: Bring some form of your identification (i.e. license, passport, birth certificate, etc.) and indentifying information about the perpetrator

When you go to Night Court, remember to bring some form of identification. It is also helpful to bring identifying information about the perpetrator if you have it, such as:

  • A photo
  • Social security number
  • Addresses of residence and employment
  • Phone numbers
  • A description and plate number of the perpetrator's vehicle
  • Any history of drugs, violence, or gun ownership

Step 4: Go to Night Court to file the forms

You will need to file the forms in the county where you live or in the county where the abuse occurred. In order to file the forms during business hours, go to Night Court. Inform the magistrate that you want to file for an order of protection.

Step 5: Ex parte hearing

When you return your petition to the magistrate, she or he will send it to a judge. The judge may wish to ask you questions about your petition. If you request a temporary order to protect yourself until your hearing for the EPO, the judge will decide whether or not to grant you the temporary order. This is called the ex parte hearing. If the judge believes you or your child or children are in serious and immediate danger, she or he may give you a temporary order which is good for 15 days which lasts until your full court hearing.

Whether the judge or magistrate grants you a temporary order or not, you will be given a court date for a full court hearing within 15 days. This hearing will be in front of a judge at the time shown on the Notice of Hearing. At this hearing, the perpetrator and you will both have a chance to explain your sides of the situation to the judge. If you received a temporary order, keep it with you at all times.

Step 6: Service of process

After you file the petition and a hearing date has been determined, the court will order the appropriate authorities to serve the perpetrator with a notice of hearing. If you have been granted a temporary protection order, the police or sheriff will serve the perpetrator with that as well.

Contact the police or sheriff to make sure they received your paperwork (the notice of hearing and your temporary protection order, if the judge granted you one). Also check to see if the perpetrator has been served. If the police or sheriff have not received your paperwork, you may wish to give them a copy of your order. Do not jeopardize your safety by attempting to serve your perpetrator in person.

Step 7: What will I have to prove at the hearing?

As the petitioner requesting a protection order you must:

  • Prove that the respondent has committed acts of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking and
  • Convince a judge that you need the protection of a protection order because your safety is at risk.

Step 8: Full court hearing

On the day of the hearing, you must go to the hearing to ask for an EPO, which will last for up to one year. At the hearing, a judge will decide whether or not to give you your EPO.

It is very important for you to go to the hearing. If you do not go to the hearing, your temporary protection order will expire. If the perpetrator does not show up for the hearing, the judge may still grant you an EPO or may reschedule the hearing.

If you absolutely cannot go to the hearing at the scheduled time, you may call the judge's office to ask that your case be continued, but the judge may deny your request.

After the Hearing

What should I do when I leave the courthouse?

  • Review the order before you leave the courthouse. If something is wrong or missing, ask the clerk to correct the order before you leave.
  • Keep a copy of the order with you at all times.
  • Leave copies of the order at your work place, at your home, at your children's school or daycare, in your car, with a sympathetic neighbor, and so on.
  • Give a copy of the order to the security guard or person at the front desk where you live and/or work.
  • Give a copy of the order to anyone who is named in and protected by the order.
  • If the court has not given you an extra copy for your local police, take one of your extra copies and deliver it to them.
  • You may wish to consider changing your locks and your phone number.

One week after court, call your local law enforcement offices to make sure they have received copies of the EPO from the clerk. You may also wish to make a safety plan. Please contact the Office of Victim Intervention and Education at 615-343-0883 in order to devise a safety plan.

I was not granted an order of protection. What are my options?

If you are not granted an order of protection, there are still some things you can do to stay safe. It might be a good idea to contact one of the domestic abuse organizations in your area to get help, support, and advice on how to stay safe. They can help you develop a safety plan and help you connect with the resources you need.

Domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking are all against the law. Whether or not a judge gives you a protection order, you have the right to report a crime to the police and request that they press charges against the perpetrator.

You may also be able to reapply for the protection order if you have new evidence to show the court that domestic abuse did occur, or if a new incident of domestic abuse occurs after you are denied the order.

If you believe the judge made an error of law, you can talk to someone at a domestic abuse organization or a lawyer about the possibility of an appeal. Generally, appeals are complicated and you will most likely need the help of a lawyer.

What if the perpetrator violates the order?

Violating an order of protection is against the law. There are two methods, criminal and civil, to get help if the perpetrator violates the order of protection. One method is through the police or sheriff (criminal). If the perpetrator violates the protection order, call 911 immediately. In some cases, the respondent or perpetrator can be arrested right away and held in jail for at least 12 hours. Tell the officers you have a protection order and the respondent is violating the order. If the respondent is arrested, the District Attorney can prosecute the perpetrator because it is a crime to violate a protection order. If the respondent is found guilty of violation of a protection order, he or she may be put in jail. A second method is through the civil court system (civil). You may file for civil contempt for a violation of the order. The perpetrator is in "civil contempt if he or she does anything that your protection order instructs him or her not to do. To file for civil contempt, go to the clerk's office and ask for the forms to file for civil contempt.

How do I change or extend the protection order?

To modify your order, go back to the court where you got it and file a petition with the clerk. You can extend a protection order for one year by filing another petition. After filing for an extension, the process is very similar to getting your first protection order. You will need to explain to the judge why you need continued protection. It is important that you file for an extension before your first protection order expires, or else you may have to restart the process.

A hearing must be scheduled within 15 days of filing the petition to extend your order for another year. The judge may issue a temporary order to protect you until the time of the hearing if he or she believes you are at risk. At that hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to grant the extension based on the facts of the case. You may be able to extend your protection order more than once, though to do so you would have to return to court each year.

What happens if I move?

If you move within Tennessee, your order will still be valid and good. It is a good idea to call the clerk of courts where you originally received the order to tell them your new address so that they can contact you if necessary.

Additionally, the federal law provides what is called "Full Faith and Credit", which means that once you have a criminal or civil protection order; it follows you wherever you go, including U.S. Territories and tribal lands. Different states have different rules for enforcing out-of-state protection orders. You can find out about your state's policies by contacting a domestic abuse program, the clerk of courts, or the prosecutor in your area.

If you are moving out of state, you should call the domestic abuse program in the state where you are moving to in order to find out how that state treats out-of-state orders. If you are moving to a new state, you may also call the National Center on Full Faith and Credit (1-800-903-0111) for information on enforcing your order.

Also, civil protection orders may not be enforceable on military bases, and military protection orders may not be enforceable off base. Please check with your local police department, court clerk, and/or domestic abuse advocate for more details.

Can I get more specific information about protection orders in my county?

The Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee publishes pamphlets with specific information on protection orders in the following counties:

  • Cannon
  • Cheatham
  • Davidson
  • Dickson
  • Houston
  • Humphreys
  • Macon
  • Montgomery
  • Robertson
  • Rutherford
  • Smith
  • Stewart
  • Sumner
  • Trousdale
  • Williamson
  • Wilson